Now that we’re more than half-way through the school holidays, you may have exhausted all your ideas (and budget) trying to keep the kids (and their friends) entertained throughout the summer. If so, don’t worry – help is at hand! We are all too familiar with this scenario and have compiled a list of our top tips for keeping the kids entertained while you (try to) soak up some of the last of the summer sun – or at least have a cup of tea…
You’ll be surprised at what you can find in the back garden just by lifting a few plant pots or turning over some stones or rocks. It’s a mini beast haven out there – even if you hardly have any plants to speak of. Expect to spot different bee varieties, ladybirds, caterpillars and butterflies, spiders, flies, hornets, green flies and ants, daddy longlegs (or crane fly), and definitely a few ants. Of course, the variety depends on what you have in your garden, but kids can have great fun spotting them, logging them, looking at them, identifying the species and even drawing them. Don’t forget to arm them with a notepad and pen and a little ‘bug jar’ so they can look at them up close before letting them go again.
Give them a bowl of water
Obviously, any garden activity requires supervision but kids (especially the young ones) can have a ball with a big bowl or basin of water. Pop in a few toys for your toddler to ‘fish out’, give them some plastic dishes to wash, or add some soap suds and hey presto, you have a mini car wash. If you don’t mind the outcome too much, you might let them loose on your own car or even the windows. Give them a scourer or old rag and let them clean the swing, the sand pit lid, the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe or whatever takes their fancy. It’s also a great way of getting them into ‘helping out’ around the house and garden.
Throw down a blanket in the shade and give them some juice and a few healthy snacks, such as strawberries, cheese chunks, carrot and cucumber sticks with a houmous dip, homemade muffins or whatever else takes your fancy. Mix it up by making it a teddy bear’s picnic with their favourite soft toys or inviting a few little friends round.
Join the craze that’s been sweeping the globe and get the kids painting their own rocks for others to find. You could ‘plant’ them in and around your own garden for other members of the family to discover or take a walk and pop some at the beach, woods or local park. Who knows? You might even find a few while you’re there. This is a great first foray into art therapy and keeps all the mess outside.
Dig out all your old sheets, blankets and curtains and make a tent. It doesn’t need to be particularly big or anything fancy as half the fun is in the making. See what you can find lying around for poles or rope in the deck chairs and secure the sheeting with clothes pegs. Once it’s built, you probably won’t see the kids for the rest of the afternoon. Don’t forget to give them a blanket and few cushions (and snacks) to help make it cosy. Alternatively, if you have enough natural materials around, you might like to challenge the older kids to build a den.
Did you know there are at least 15 edible plants you can forage in your own garden? These include daisies, dandelions, clover, nettles, elderflowers, violets and honesty. Give the kids an introduction to foraging (and perhaps even medical herbalism if you have the skills) and have fun at the same time. All they need is a little basket and an eye for what’s edible (with your help, of course). Just be sure to do your research first if you’re new to foraging. We can guarantee you’ll have fun finding out what to do with the plant power growing in your garden.
Get the kids to make a chart to help them start identifying the different species of bird that visit the garden daily. All they need is a picture of the bird and space to add tally marks every time they see one of the same. If you have a feeding station, you might like to pop out some high protein foods, such as black sunflower seeds or raisins, to encourage the birds to stop at a good vantage point. This is a great introduction to ornithology and you might even like to take their research further to find out what their habits are and how you can help to sustain them at different times of year. Feeding garden birds all year round can really help to ensure their survival. At this time of year, you can expect to see pigeons and seagulls – and even the odd garden warbler – at least!
By leaving a small patch of grass uncut the next time you get the lawnmower out you’ll already be creating a little wildlife haven – especially for the bees. Often the uncut clover in one garden can support a whole hive of bees so it’s worth considering the next time you cut the grass. Although this isn’t really something for the kids to get involved in, they might want to expand the wildlife appeal by putting out some water or wet cat food which can really help hedgehogs and other wildlife to hydrate and refuel when summers are particularly hot. Nearby, you might want to pop up a bat box or a bug hotel, which you can even make yourselves and nail to the garden fence. You might even want to plant some flowers which attract certain wildlife or check out some of the other ways to help and stop further declining numbers.
Get a friendly game going
Whether it’s football, badminton or rounders, summer is a great excuse to get kids off the sofa and more active – even if they’re not naturally sporty. This is a great thing to get going for the older kids, who might want to get a community-type game going either in the garden, local park or patch of grass which is central to where they live. Appeal to their competitive nature and pit the adults against the kids. It’ll do you the world of good too and transport you straight back to your youth!
Invest in some new garden toys
Once you’ve tried all of the above, why not invest in some new garden toys? You’ll get some mileage out of them before the winter creeps in and they’ll be there waiting for you (albeit in the shed) for next year. You might even grab a bargain in the summer sales. Our favourite buys include IKEA’s Circus Tent; the Chad Valley Sand & Water Pit – available from Argos; the inflatable Roller Wheel; and the Thumbs Up Retro Games Handheld Console ,which includes more than 150 classic games, for older kids (and adults too). It might be a games console but it still encourages ‘unplugging’ from the internet and is a great way to have your older children join you in the garden. They’ll have fun checking out all these retro games that we parents remember so well as they lounge on the garden furniture, in the make-shift den or under the gazebo.